"And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what's best in us, and not what's worst?"
The president asked the right question in his State of the Union address last week. What if he'd actually answered it -- or at least addressed it honestly?
Oh, torn heart, torn citizenship.
I find myself disconnecting from national politics in a profound way, even as the 2016 presidential race continues to transcend the media-controlled same old, same old charade of races past. The Republican presidential free-for-all is a suicidally End Times-esque spectacle the likes of which I've never seen. And on the other side of the divide, the Dems, thanks to Bernie Sanders, are daring to wade ankle-deep into progressive values. But it's not enough. It's not enough.
I simply can no longer tolerate our political inability to face the obsolescence of war and refuse to keep coddling the military-industrial profiteers and true believers.
"Priority number one," Obama said in his address, "is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. . . .
"We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that's exactly what we're doing. . . . With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we're taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons. We're training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria."
The transition is so smooth: from moral condemnation of what "they" do to a moral justification of what we do, no matter that what we do -- my God, 10,000 air strikes, and that's just in the last year and a half -- can only be called collateral slaughter. And it doesn't even accomplish its stated ends. The "war on terror" we've been waging for most of the 21st century is an unmitigated disaster, destabilizing vast regions of the world, killing and displacing millions of people, expanding terrorist organizations, but our political leaders have to keep extolling the war's glory and moral rectitude.
Something is terribly amiss here. Everything we value in our day-to-day lives -- every behavioral proscription that makes society possible, beginning with "thou shalt not kill" -- transforms into its opposite on the way to becoming national policy. Maybe the problem is nationalism itself. The nation-state, as currently conceived, manifests humanity's shadow: our hunger to dominate, to control, to act aggressively without consequence. What would be called pompous stupidity at the level of social reality becomes "greatness" at the altar of nationalism.
For instance: "Washington's war on terror strategy has already sent at least $1.6 trillion down the drain, left thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslims dead," Peter Van Buren writes at TomDispatch. "Along the way we lost precious freedoms to the ever-expanding national security state."
How is it that such (relatively conservative) War on Terror data doesn't come up in presidential debates or State of the Union addresses? How is it that, in the land of the free, in the world's greatest democracy, so little military-industrial behavior is officially challenged? Almost no one even expects it to be challenged, even though, as Van Buren notes:
"The sum of all this activity, 14-plus years of it, has been ever more failed states and ungoverned spaces."
Isn't there something better we could be doing with this enormous corralling of potential called the United States of America? What we call leadership is mostly just public relations -- for the military-industrial matrix, as I think of it: this secret collusion of profit and desire that is committed to nothing so much as endless war, which is mostly endless (and endlessly profitable) carnage and failure dressed up as glory.
Are we past the point where presidential candidates are allowed to stand up to war? Is the American public so frightened by the non-threat of terrorism that it would not tolerate a candidate who refuses to acquiesce to its alleged demand for multi-trillion-dollar, existential "protection"?
I don't think so.
As the Republican Party careens (let us hope) toward permanent marginalization, perhaps the American -- and global -- political process will yield to a higher form of human organization.
David Korten, writing almost a decade ago in Yes! Magazine, put it this way: "We face a defining choice between two contrasting models for organizing human affairs." One of them, humanity's political template for the last 5,000 or so years, he called "Empire." The other, he called "Earth Community."
"Empire," he wrote, "organizes by domination at all levels, from relations among nations to relations among family members. Empire brings fortune to the few, condemns the majority to misery and servitude, suppresses the creative potential of all, and appropriates much of the wealth of human societies to maintain the institutions of domination.
"Earth Community, by contrast, organizes by partnership, unleashes the human potential for creative co-operation, and shares resources and surpluses for the good of all. Supporting evidence for the possibilities of Earth Community comes from the findings of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and religious mysticism. It was the human way before Empire; we must make a choice to relearn how to live by its principles."
Is it too much to ask the American political process to participate in something larger than itself -- something the size, perhaps, of human or planetary evolution? Perhaps this question is the starting point of the future.
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Robert Koehler is an award--winning, Chicago--based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.